Back in July, our pop music critic wondered: If a Taylor Swift album drops in a pandemic, does it make a sound? Such a question is rhetorical, to some extent. Even in these unprecedented times, of course one of her releases would make a sound. The smallest of Swiftian plops would. The actual question is, how loud?
For all its musical softness, “Folklore” seems to have landed with a thud that reverberates to this day. Billboard reported Sunday that the album has become the first to sell a million copies in the United States this year. It has also returned to the top of the Billboard 200 chart for an eighth non-consecutive week.
These feats aren’t out of character for Swift. “Folklore,” her eighth studio album, follows in the footsteps of last year’s “Lover,” the only 2019 record to sell a million copies stateside. Including “The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection,” released in 2007, nine of the singer’s albums have sold at least a million copies each. According to Billboard, 2008′s “Fearless” continues to reign supreme at a whopping 7.21 million.
But wait, there’s more! Swift has been nominated for favorite female pop/rock artist at the American Music Awards next month and, if she wins for the third year in a row, would become the first five-time winner in the award show’s 47-year history. She is tied at four with Olivia Newton-John and Whitney Houston.
Beyond the sales and minor accolades naturally drawn to a star of Swift’s magnitude, the success of “Folklore” could be in part due to the unique circumstances of its creation. The album was written and recorded “in isolation,” Swift wrote upon its release, announcing that she made a pandemic album for her pandemic listeners. She recruited collaborators — chief among them, the National’s Aaron Dessner, who co-wrote or produced nearly a dozen songs, and frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff, who let off the pop music gas pedal — who enabled her vision of pouring “all of my whims, dreams, fears, and musings” into a cozy sweater of a record.
“The triumph of ‘Folklore’ isn’t that Swift has suddenly become tasteful and tuned-in,” Washington Post critic Chris Richards stated in his review. “Having so thoroughly crashed the pop charts like a fluorescent tidal wave, she’s finally making enough space in her music for her modest voice to sound like itself.”
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